Photo by: Dave Evertsen

September 22, 2016 / Fall 2016 / Photography / Picture This

You can do candid photos

Written by John Burke

So you have a photo assignment for your publication and your teacher says get some “candid shots.” Well, you know how to take a selfie, but what is a candid shot? And is there a button on your camera for it? Candid photography means no posing of any kind. We are so used to posing for selfies, saying “cheese” or “1… 2… 3 click.

In photography, candid means capturing a scene just as it is rather than manipulating the situation. There is no, “look this way,” “don’t move,” “give me a big smile!” or “do that one more time, please?” Instead, it’s just watching and clicking to document what’s happening.

Tip 1 – Become BFFs with your camera

Technique: I tell my students this means, “take your camera everywhere.” You wouldn’t dream of going to lunch, a dance, a football game, a pep rally, or Starbucks after school and not bringing your best friend. If you want to get great candid shots, you need to treat your camera like it’s your BFF. Take it everywhere. And like having a BFF, the more you hang out the better your relationship gets, and people eventually expect to see you two together everywhere.

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By Becoming BFFs with his camera, photog Andrew Hughes had his camera ready to shoot at the very moment a Transportation Department worker lent a helping hand to a man in need.

At first, it might seem a little weird having your camera at the lunch table, or on the desk in calculus, or at the girl’s volleyball game. But your friends, family and teachers will quickly get used to you having your camera with you all the time, which will help you with all the following tips. Being BFFs with your camera is the most important step because if you don’t have your camera you cannot get an image. And the more images you take, the easier and less awkward it will feel for you to take pictures of strangers.

Tip 2 – Shoot a lot

Technique: I tell my students, “Imagine your candid photos are free donuts and take as many as you can!” Spontaneous moments are just that, they are unplanned so realize they happen fast and fade fast. Set your camera to “burst” or “continuous” and shoot. If you don’t know how to set your camera to that, it’s 2016, look it up on Google. You will be happy you did. This will greatly increase your chances of getting that winning shot.

Tip 3 – Zoom across the room

Technique: If you have a zoom lens or telephoto lens, use it. Anything longer than 70mm works best. If you want to stop a moment, get right in someone’s face and start clicking away. Zoom lenses allow you to be an observer and go unnoticed.

Imagine you and a couple friends are sitting in the lunchroom having a personal conversation. Then a teacher comes over and sits right next to you. What happens? Chances are you are going to change your conversation. However, if the teachers were standing all the way across the room you probably wouldn’t even notice them. So, in candid photography think, the closer you are with your camera to someone’s personal space, the more likely it is that his/her behavior will change. Plus, by not being right next to the person, there is the added benefit that they will be less likely to look right at the camera.

Tip 4 – Get hip

Technique: Shoot from the hip. As mentioned in the previous tip, cameras can change people’s behavior. Once people see a camera they often go into “pose mode” and start acting for the camera. One cool way to get authentic photos is to take photos from your hip, and yes, I literally mean to put the camera on your hip. To do this, set your lens to its widest setting. On most DSLRs lens this will be 18mm. Then lengthen your camera strap and start shooting. Don’t worry about composition. Just let the camera gods do their thing. Another added benefit of “Getting Hip” is that it changes your perspective. We are so used to seeing photos taken from eye level that this drives visual interest into your photos just by a change in height.

Tip 5 – Be a blender

Technique: Be quiet and blend in. Ever gone to a costume party without a costume or a formal event in jeans and a T-shirt? Awkward! And yes, it draws attention to you. When shooting candidly you want to draw as little attention to yourself as possible. So don’t walk in playing bagpipes in a neon suit. Do your research to determine what you should wear. Think about your recipe for blending in as being one part librarian, one part ninja and one part Anne Leibovitz. Be quiet, be stealthy and take great photos.

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By photographing people with people at this charity kickball game, Matt Casler captured the emotional energy that happens when groups are engaged with each other.

Tip 6 – Focus on people with people

Technique: When people are together they have a natural tendency to focus on each other (or their cell phones). Ever walked up to a lunch table, or enter a room with a group of people and been completely ignored because everyone is engrossed in a story? Then you know the power of people with people. Taking photos of people with people means they are more likely to be engaged with each other, expressive and not focusing on the camera. Also, when people are with people they bring a natural emotional energy to the picture that will build your visual story. Take images of pairs or groups of people as much as you can.

Tip 7 – Turn off the flash

Technique: If you want everyone to stop what they are doing and look at you, yell “free bagels” or let your flash fire. This tip is simple: turn off your flash and set your ISO just high enough to get a good exposure. Don’t turn it up to the max setting (like 6400+) because you will get a lot of noise in your images. If photos are a little dark, you can lighten them in Photoshop, Elements or another software program, so don’t worry. But remember I said a “little dark” ­– not black.

Tip 8 – Position yourself strategically

Technique: Think about what story you are trying to tell. Then do your best to anticipate where the action is going to happen and position yourself strategically. Think: “What’s the possible story here?” and “Where is it going to unfold?” Don’t go for the obvious: If the football team is getting ready to score, the story might not be in the end zone but in the stands. What tells the story of an exciting victory more: a player catching a ball or 20 teenagers with their faces painted in spirit colors going crazy in the stands? Constantly be thinking where the next shot will come from because after the touchdown, it’s too late to run to the stands and get a shot of the crowd going crazy. Move to the stands, or the podium or the lab table before the action happens. Also, by positioning yourself before the action, you have the added advantage of already being in the space before the moment happens so people don’t alter their behavior when the moment unfolds because you entered the space.

Tip 9 – Be patient

Technique: Go easy on yourself. Candid is not posed. With candid photography you are waiting for something to happen and then trying to capture that one definitive moment. A big mistake photographers make is expecting every shot to be perfect. They won’t be. Just take your time, think about these tips and look for moments. In the end, if you get one good photo, you have done well.

John Burke

John Burke teaches Photo 1, Photo 2 and Photo 3 at Boone High School in Orlando, Florida. He's been teaching for 20 years. In his spare time he does obstacle course racing and triathlons all over the U.S., and has completed the Spartan Beast and Trifecta and the Ironman 70.3. His favorite things to photograph other than cupcakes he's getting ready to eat are abandoned structures and narrative figurative work in strange locations like underwater.